Halloween: The Happy Haunting of America

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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Halloween: The Happy Haunting of America (1995 & 1997, dir: Daniel Roebuck and Chuck Williams; hosts: Daniel Roebuck, Bob Burns)





In 1995 actor Daniel Roebuck hosted an Entertainment Tonight segment on Halloween, with producer Chuck Williams and "Halloween expert" Bob Burns (Sci-Fi Buzz). The following year, the three ¨men expanded on that idea, producing this fifty minute videotape about Halloween.*¨

ET is no longer involved, though a segment from that show is included in this documentary.

Halloween: The Happy Haunting of America follows Roebuck visiting ¨haunted houses and spooky museums across 12 states. His journey ¨is depicted MTV style: a succession of choppy quick-cuts of scary masks and hammy actors, a shaky camera and slo-mo strobe, and a generic metal score. Local TV stations air such "soft news" segments every Halloween (Roebuck and Burns even mug for the camera in TV news anchor fashion) but it grows tedious at fifty minutes.¨

Along Roebuck's journey, horror celebrities offer soundbites ¨on what Halloween meant for them growing up. Basically the same ¨as for you and me.

We learn that Robert Englund used to trick or treat in "the rich neighborhoods" because they had better treats, such as caramel-coated apples. English actor Doug Bradley (Pinhead in Hellraiser) says things were simpler in his day. He bobbed for apples.

Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man in Phantasm) ¨provides some colorful vignettes on Halloween during the Depression. Few adults could afford treats, and children had to "make their own fun." Scrimm rolled spools along people's windows to scare them. Costumes were just old bedsheets with two eyeholes. ¨
By contrast, Alice Cooper describes his trick or treat experience as "an exercise in greed." His friends "didn't even care" about costumes. They'd fill three or four sacks with treats, deposit them at home, then go out for more.¨


Roebuck's MTV styled quick-cuts and celebrity soundbites are ¨padded with "comic relief" exchanges with Bob Burns. At one point, Burns answers Roebuck's questions with full mouth, rendering him unintelligible. Mercifully, the comic relief is kept to a minimum.

Burns is more interesting when coherent. A longtime special effects artist, he's produced Halloween shows in his Burbank backyard for over 20 years, and the snippets from his home ¨movies are diverting. Burns talks at length. Other sfx/makeup artists (Tom Savini, Henry Alvarez) provide only soundbites. Sfx/makeup aficionados may find some interest in their remarks, but the field has never interested me.¨

Although Halloween: The Happy Haunting of America runs fifty ¨minutes,* it's no more informative than a brief ET segment. Choppy visuals, brief soundbites, and pointless comic relief work against anything substantive. An unfunny parody of TV horror hosts (Roebuck as Dr. Shocker) intros the tape. Soundbite contributors seem chosen for who they are rather than for what they say, which is little. Mainly they're there to cram a marquee of celebrity names onto the video box.¨

I must also disclose, I am one of those hammy haunted house ¨actors captured in those choppy visuals. We're all uncredited, as it should be. None of us were involved in the making of the tape. Roebuck and Williams went from haunted house to haunted house, much as an ET news team would. And this tape does feel like an overlong ET ¨segment, a promo piece for the people and projects covered, which ¨is the essence of "entertainment reporting." Anchors mugging into the camera on film sets while celebs reiterate their "talking ¨points."¨

Halloween: The Happy Haunting of America is a low budget effort with no distributor credited on its box. Copies may be purchased from Halloween Products (Chuck Williams's company) at 1-800-472-4791, PO Box 950477, Mission Hills, CA, 91395. I am told a sequel is in the works covering the haunted houses of 1997, featured celebs to include Clive Barker.


* I wrote this review in 1997 for Horrorfind.com. It covered the 50 minute 1995 documentary, which was released on VHS. Since then, a sequel was indeed produced. The DVD box featured above includes both documentaries. I haven't seen the second one, so I can't comment on that.



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